Thursday, 23 August 2007

Review: "The Demolished Man" by Alfred Bester

Today I started (and finished) "The Demolished Man" by Alfred Bester, who also wrote "The Stars My Destination".

The opening passages of the book didn't initial strike much of a chord with me, but as I worked my way into the narrative, I found it quite enjoyable, and can see why it comes so highly recommended.

Like "Black Man", "Demolished Man" deals with a change in human society resulting from the emergence of a new form of human. In "Demolished Man", the new model of humans are "peepers", psychic individuals. Unlike the variant thirteen genetic soldiers in "Black Man", the psychics in "Demolished Man" are a natural stage in evolution, and are slowly becoming the dominant form of human rather than an isolated minority.

Like "Minority Report" by Philip K. Dick, the main narrative in "Demolished Man" revolves around someone driven to commit murder in a world in which the act of murder is almost by definition impossible. There the similarities end. "Minority Report" was a meditation on the imprecision of clairvoyance and the effect knowing your fate has on your decision to act out your part of that fate. "Demolished Man" is instead a cat and mouse game where reading someone's mind gives you access to a truth that is more or less absolute, but which is not admissible in court, and which must be supplemented with objective evidence.

"Demolished Man" also offers some wonderful interplay between its psychic characters, and addresses well what relationships between psychic men and women would be like. Unlike many lesser and cliched treatments of the subject, the interplay of any two of the adult psychics in "Demolished Man" can be playful, calculated, intimate, nuanced. Lesser works use ESP as a cliched device to advance the plot and telepathy as a hands-free phone. Bester on the other hand does a good job of demonstrating that like sign language, a new form of communication would have its own character rather than simply being a direct translation of written and spoken language.

"Demolished Man" is also interesting as a narrative, in that the narration follows one character almost exclusively for the first half of the book, and follows their nemesis almost exclusively for the last half.

I'll have to reread "The Stars My Destination" and work through the rest of the author's work at some point (preferably this year, as the movie version of "The Stars My Destination" may come out in 2008).

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